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Robert Fairchild and His Powder Horn

Powder horns are unique artifacts in that they have the ability to speak to a single person’s 18th-century military service unlike most other objects.  Muskets, swords, and other similar items, though important, are rarely able to connect people today nearly face-to-face with an individual person from the past.  What makes powder horns so interesting, and important, is that most have the owner’s name carved into it along with the date the horn was made (actually it’s the date the horn was carved or engraved) and the place the where the work was done.  With this basic information it is often possible to track the owner’s military service and, with further research, understand something about the person’s greater family life.

Robert Fairchild's powder horn
Overview of Robert Fairchild’s powder horn.

Recently, a rare French & Indian War powder horn was donated to Fort Ticonderoga.  It is inscribed “ROBERT FAIRCHILD HIS POWDER HORN MADE ATT LAKE GEORGE AUGUST THE 27 AD 1756.”  Apart from clearly identifying the horn’s owner, place, and date of carving, the horn is embellished with other interesting decorative and military motifs.  Bordering the cartouche containing Fairchild’s name is a simple floral and geometrically carved design.

Robert Fairchild's powder horn scroll and geometric shape detail
Scroll and geometric designs embellish the border of the name cartouche.

The back of the horn features a detailed image of one of the British sloops that sailed on Lake George during the war.  A simple depiction of a four-bastion fort carved near the horn’s base may represent Fort William Henry under construction while Fairchild was at Lake George.

Robert Fairchild's powder horn sloop detail
An image of a sloop adorns the back of the horn.

Around the narrow end of the horn are carved rectangular panels, two of which depict showing cannon mounted on large-wheeled field carriages being fired with smoke billowing out their muzzles and cannonballs flying through the air.

Robert Fairchild's powder horn cannon detail
Cannon firing complete with billowing smoke and shot flying through the air.

Curiously, the powder horn’s spout has been cut off and there appears to be evidence that at one time a replacement (now missing) may have been attached.  The back of the horn has also been trimmed, probably removing about an inch of its base.  Exactly when or why this was done is not known.

Because of the date and place indicated on the horn, the most likely regiments that Robert Fairchild was serving with are those from Massachusetts, Connecticut, or New York.  A quick check of the available muster rolls for these colonies reveals that the only soldier with that name was from Connecticut.  Robert Fairchild was born January 16, 1737 and was living in Middletown, Connecticutin 1756.  He began his military service at the age of 19.  Muster rolls reveal that on April 3, 1756 Fairchild enlisted in Major Jehosaphat Starr’s Company of Colonel David Wooster’s 2nd Connecticut Provincial Regiment.  In 1756 many of the troops posted at the camps at south end of Lake George were involved in the construction of Fort William Henry.

Robert Fairchild's powder horn fort detail
The fort may be a very simplified representation of Fort William Henry which was under construction in 1756.

At other times these men were engaged in hauling supplies between the Lake George camp and Fort Edward, building boats, and going on scouts to spy on the enemy and capture prisoners.  Fairchild served at Lake George through December 3 when he was discharged from his duties for that campaign.

According to muster rolls, Fairchild remained home in Middletown, Connecticutin 1757 serving as a soldier in his local militia commanded by Captain Jacob Whitmore.  He served a total of 16 days that year, probably in August when many New England militia units were called to action to respond to the alarm raised with the siege of Fort William Henry early that month.

In 1758 Robert Fairchild returned to provincial service serving as a private soldier in Captain Timothy Hierlehey’s Company of Major-General Phineas Lyman’s 1st Connecticut Provincial Regiment.  He enlisted on March 28 and served through November 28.  Major-General Phineas Lyman’s Regiment was one of the many provincial regiments that took part in the ill-fated attack on Fort Ticonderoga on July 8th that resulted in nearly 2,000 British and American Provincial soldiers being killed and wounded.  While the battle was a devastating defeat for the British, it was for the French army its greatest victory of the entire French & Indian War.  As far as can be determined, Fairchild survived the battle unscathed.

Fairchild’s final year of military service was during the 1759 campaign where he enlisted on March 31 as a sergeant again in Captain Timothy Hierlehey’s Company of Major-General Phineas Lyman’s 1st Connecticut Provincial Regiment.  In that campaign, Lyman’s regiment again ventured to Ticonderoga with the British army and took part in its successful capture of the Fort and may have worked to repair it afterwards.  Fairchild served through December 16 when he was discharged and return to Middletown.

Robert Fairchild's powder horn missing spout detail
The spout was removed from the horn, but there is evidence of a now missing repair or replacement that was apparently secured to the horn through a series of four holes near the point where the spout once was. One hole is visible in the hatched decorative band near the opening.

A few years after returning home, Robert married Ruth Starr on May 13, 1762, and over the next 22 years they had nine children.  Robert died in New Haven, Connecticut at the age of 57 on November 15, 1794.  His wife, Ruth, outlived him by 23 years dying in 1817.  For the time being, this is what we know about Robert Fairchild.  Like so many New Englanders, however, further research will likely reveal more about his life.  Every new acquisition opens new opportunities to learn about the past and undoubtedly this powder horn will continue to “speak” to us for many years to come.

This powder horn came to the museum as a result of the Fort’s curator’s appearance on the highly-rated PBS television series History Detectives in January of this year that featured the investigation of an unrelated powder horn.  The donor of the Fairchild horn, Ms. Tonyia Baldwin, contacted Fort Ticonderoga after the show aired to discuss a powder horn that had belonged to her father.  Feeling that the powder horn needed to be preserved for future generations and made accessible to the public, she proceeded to donate it to Fort Ticonderoga.  Regarding the powder horn Ms. Baldwin said “I felt that it was time for it to go to a museum where it could be preserved and enjoyed by everyone, not just sitting on a shelf in our home.”

Blog post by Christopher D. Fox, Curator, Fort Ticonderoga